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Can't enjoy the luxury
A tumultuous week diving into the cold hard truth of our humanity as revealed by our healthcare.
I spent a number of years shuttling my too slow dying mother from healthcare situation to healthcare situation and learnt to never look dead on at what’s in front of you. Then I forgot. now I remember.
Prison yard stares and fleur-de-lis tattoos
Cannibals are saving all their bones for soup
Eating with my fingers and sucking hulls of ships
My parasite don't deserve no better than this
The Luxury, The Tragically Hip
Father hollers down the stairs, “I can’t sleep” and I say yeah? and it goes quiet for a while and I ponder how strange it is he needed to tell me that and turn it over in my head a few times.
what does sleep sound like? what other words could fit there.
he’s at the top of the stairs gasping for air while I do this dance in my head and connect the dots.
Every week comes and every week goes and I couldn’t be more earnest and devoted to writing you a newsletter. I make notes through the week, through the days about this interesting thought, or that seeming breakthrough, I find rhythms and cadences in my edits. I write paragraphs and try them with various photos.
I feel like i’m really onto something here..
Until I’m not anymore and begin riding another eddie of color or tone. Another philosophy. another breakthrough.
one more elation falling aside and never reaching you.
That old dead part of me, the ad hoc nurse kicks into action but the rust is there and I spend too long ruling out the obvious. Heart attack? Panic Attack?
his fingers start turning blue while i turn ideas over in my head about calling 911.
I do though. I call 911 and keep monitoring his flagging O2 sat.
“I can’t keep doing this” he says grabbing his chest, fingers twining and smoothing.
I can’t keep doing this, and the world unfolds in slow motion while another parent, in the very same living room, threatens to abandon this world and somehow I’m the gatekeeper.
somehow the least dependable person ends up making life and death choices.
I was working on a longish post about the role of the “artist” in 2023. Where everything is content. Where content can come from anywhere even mindless automatons guessing the next letter.
Maybe the AI are the real artists after all.
When I’m at my best I’m not sure what will fall out of my eye next. Guessing the next emotion. The next phrase in a very drawn out visual sentence, like winogrand if he actually cared about what he captured.
I threw the post out all the same. Here’s a photo from it.
You can probably tell i’m still working on this film still vs photo problem and progress has been made both emotionally and mechanically.
Emotionally, I realized somewhere along the way I started thinking about the photo. Making a photo vs trying to record, or capture or hint at a feeling, a moment, an experience. I shifted to making the finished photo the measure of success, rather than gauging if it makes me feel something and this shift may correlate with how small my life has become.
Mechanically I’ve almost convinced myself I don’t need to buy a RED and start grabbing frames rather than using a stills camera. almost.
A paramedic bomb of life saving plastic hoses and packages went off in the living room wrappers finding their way into every cranny. They move the never before moved wooden shoe storage/sitting thing in the landing to get his stretcher through and 10 years of random things that have fallen behind spill forward.
A knife to open amazon packages. fast food coupons. plant ties. straws. my robot heart.
10 years of not caring enough when vacuuming sit staring us all in the face. The little secrets of choosing not to look at things honestly come unavoidable.
we don’t know why there’s nothing happening where his lungs are supposed to be making sounds, come along to the hospital in a few hours..
When I began photography I began with manual focus lenses, shooting film because that’s what we had, not because I was cool somehow and I remember spending hours focusing in and out slowly watching the focal plane ebb then give way to bokeh like a kaleidoscope laid upon the world.
I remember my first nude shoot and the joy of blur giving way to flesh. of bokeh finding form. the fleshy stubs of a nipple. a blemish. a mark, the owner wishes would remain a blur, but now will not.
There was a fluidity to finding a frame. A motion which often stirred emotion outside of the subject. A tiny movie playing only for me in the optical viewfinder.
This beautiful dance of focus and blur was never captured in the frame but the magic of it imbued the frame with something intangible. It saturated me with feelings and I converted those feelings into frames.
is this cancer? is he even alive while i pack this bag of things he might need while in hospital? did he survive the 40 minute trip? What happens to my entire life if he didn’t? Can I still live here till we sell this house?
what if he lives but he’s seriously disabled? I can barely help him to the bathroom, we’ve tried.
my life slams into a wall in my head while I wait to go to hospital. I’m vibrating with adrenaline and I’ve got hours to fill before any answers come. All there is now is the terror of the many horrible outcomes for which we’ve been slowly inching our way toward without care. More hidden things to fall forward because we didn’t want to look at them.
Motion pictures generate emotions through their contrasting frames, through their expression of seeing a start to finish of something rather than a single frame carrying all the work. I never have, nor will I ever be able to carry in a single frame the ecstasy of watching a woman’s hair trussed up above her neckline falling forward in fits and starts before washing like a hungry tide against the soft lines of her neck.
I can capture the before. The during. the after. I cannot by way of a single frame explain the entirety nor can you experience the unrepeatable organic act that sometimes is luxurious, sometimes mundane, but always pregnant with possibility.
There is a routine human joy in anticipating what will come next and sometimes being satisfied, sometimes thwarted by what unfolds. we have an innate desire to follow things that move to their conclusion in the same way I would follow the creeping focal plane crawling along a hip, a thigh, the turn of a wicked, or sincere, smirk.
As I work through video vs. photo over I find video reminds me of what I was feeling while I made it in a way that my photos cannot. It’s never about a tone, or a shade. I spend so much time looking at something that maybe doesn’t matter. maybe doesn’t affect the scales.
Following lines on floors. masks and the sick are everywhere.
hospitals. where our humanity, and all the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves, go to die.
I walk halls that clearly weren’t setup for speed. buildings, hovel like, built onto as the budgets allowed. through this secured door. follow an orderly who walks ever so fast, though he has no where else to be or go.
I find father. he is alive.
a rapid fire staccato of news. they always try to overwhelm your questions. just ceed the care. we have this.
a lung fell. collapsed after leaking its life giving air into the sac around the lung. inexplicable, unless you count COPD. unless you count a breath stress test the day before (no they would never consider). He became the second one in the immediate family with a collapsed lung. a tidy chest tube. he’s alive. he’s awake. he’s wearing a forced air mask through which he cannot talk.
we sit and try to yell at each other over the other people who are yelling not because of forced air masks but because healthcare workers have learnt they must ignore. they must ignore the human side of this equation and focus on our bodies as if they are cars.
you’re fucking killing me, why can’t you help, i need help. please help.
and a sea of our most trained stand by filling out papers, nothing is happening. nothing. is. happening.
I spent the better part of my life dirt broke but living in the luxury.
Spending so much of my time and energy chasing beauty. chasing elation, euphoria, chasing ecstasies of the eye. Putting it to myself to rise and meet so many moments I had no right to be present for and sometimes meeting them squarely, honestly and making them part of me.
This is luxury of the highest order.
higher yet than being unfathomably hot and having a large insta following.
In this private luxury, traded for by lost time, health and money, I found a meaty vein of life to dig my teeth into and one that carried me through the most volatile years of my life with purpose.
you can, if you like, quibble the value of a life spent chasing beauty; a copse of pubic hair set against soft white light, the violent chaos of winds come judgement day, or the sublime ever expanding rolling foothills spilling out into open prairie. You can. but I spent two decades there and I can tell you it’s as good a way to spend your time as any. better than many.
the luxury, like tender and perfect youthful skin or i-can-drink-and-smoke-all-night vitality, begins to compete against the savage nature of entropy, of the falling apart. moreover the ability to chase it, to live comfortable inside it, to give yourself to it becomes heckled at all sides by responsibilities—never more true than staring down a penny-less old age—waning physical capacities, made two-fold if you we’re lucky enough to break along the way, and the ultimate fatiguing waxing of inattention and the inability to just sit calm whilst the cacophony of body signals, life needs and demands bid unrelenting.
which is to say the shroud protecting you from the truth of your stinking asshole and beating heart begins to wear and chafe, become threadbare as a prostitute’s heart and threatens to give up all together. We can, by choice, or necessity turn our eyes away for only so long.
Hospitals are instagram without the filter.
Life without the empty promises. the body without the balm of youth. Hospitals are the stinking anus that follows you around your entire life and you try to pretend isn’t there, till you have to deal with it.
Hospitals are where we end up stripped of our money. An economy that gives no quarter to your beauty, grace or accomplishments. Your money and the power it buys you mean nothing in raw medical terms and hospitals are the literal manifestation of raw medical terms. The hospital doesn’t care if you sat with your mother through long nights, or slept with a hundred of the most beautiful women, or have everyone cower when you enter the boardroom.
The hospital, by proxy, is the great equalizer. it’s proxy to the failing body. the conveyance and calamity of being alive. Every gift your body offers eventually will be taken back and woah be unto you if they are taken slowly. wish for the quick end.
And, of course, hospitals are filled with all the detritus of our societies. The mentally unwell. the addicts. the quick to throw a punch in an ill advised bar fight. the elderly. the stupid. the risky.
To walk outside a modern hospital is to sit with the truth of who we are as a species. The greatest liars ever created by biology while simultaneously being the most hungry for a good lie.
our sickest, weakest, ugliest, most mal-adjusted, dependent and unable to function who wash over and wear out the most earnest people in the world who get into this game to help people is tragedy in the most human way possible and like a river carving its way to the sea it’s unstoppable that eager kind heart will stand by busying themself, pretending someone isn’t screaming for help 10 feet away.
When you get into editing a video everything is flow. the flow of frame to frame. the flow of audio rising and falling. the flow of sequencing time and feeling. You are literally creating reality with each choice of what you hide, and what you show.
Second to second, frame to frame, you are engaged first on the level of mechanics and second on the level of emotions. Quietly, some part of you is keeping pace and tabs of all the notes that have been hit and what needs hitting now. It’s not unlike finding the flow in writing.
It’s not unlike the flow of making photos.
Each choice leading you to the next. Each moment birthing the next. And when it works you are liberated from the weights that bind you to time and space. the mortal limits. the truths. you are free in a space of creation that ignores, or cannot contain the truth of existence whilst being directly connected to the only parts of existence that matter.
Those moments of creation, separated away from the truth of our impending falling, failing and ultimate death are the marrow of our lives, not an abandonment of them.
To get lost in the powers of our youth, or the fineness of our beauty, the vitality of our strength or the impact of our online clout1 is to trade the little time we have where we can legitimately deny what is coming, our day in hospital, our reckoning with the physical truths of life. To chase these hollow yet colorful shadow's dancing on the walls of our modern lives is to surrender to the need to be saved from ourselves, at the expense of ourselves.
Hard days pass. Anger and sadness and frustration and long hours of hospital time visiting with not much to say. Rooms change. Doctor’s come and go. Blood is drawn and we wait.
We wait in a sea of sickness and death to be released to our old boring lives which we have carefully constructed to isolate us from these very things.
it eventually comes and I ferry the old man down the queen’s highway and he bobs along on the other side of the jeep watching the world fly by and isn’t sure he’s up to this. Tired and worn down staring at more problems like this without massive change, and massive courage he seems lost to himself in the passenger seat.
I lose a week of editing. a week of writing. a week of chasing answers to questions that probably don’t have answers. I lose a week of moments of flow and realization and substitute them with dark thoughts generated at the hands of seeing things I don’t want to see. The sadness of our lost, broken and forgotten and the terror of knowing I’m one infection, random disease, or accident away from joining them.
The hold which i have secured on my life feels tenuous at best. A collection of happy accidents and unexplainable turns of the wheel put me in a place where some days I believe the lie I can still create something with value, and some days all I can do is think about the stinking anus following me around threatening to have me follow it around.
Readers here will know I’ve been wrestling with a funk for some time. Unsure of where my creativity, or ability to lose myself in beauty has gone. Toiling while I wait for it to return and this brush with reality tore down some of the things blocking my view.
I probably never will feel as strong, or capable as I did. I will probably wrestle to focus on the beauty while in proximity to it. It will overwhelm and terrify me in equal measure. I will miss the mark as often as I hit it or more.
Nothing in life terrifies me more than being reduced to a body that cannot function well enough to plug into the flow of beauty. To be left wandering around in some lessened state, divorced from the marrow of life, yet having to keep living.
But for the moment, I still can push myself into positions where beauty might pass me for a moment, I can drink from that flow and remember to forget until I can’t not forget anymore.
Read my friend tyler’s article on clout